The Horus Heresy – Legion Overview – The Emperor’s Children

The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. In this article – the first in a series detailing each legion – we’ll look at the background and rules for the Emperor’s Children in the Horus Heresy game, and explore the Legion which strove for relentless perfection, before a tragic and rapid decline into insanity, hedonism and excess.

The III Legion

“The Emperor’s Children were the only Legion to bear the Emperor’s own name and His own standard – the great Palatine Aquila – granted to them by His own hand… From this height they descended in treachery to the lowest and vilest of creatures, enslaved to pride and consumed by desires that no natural power could fulfill.”

Credit: Forge World

The Emperor’s Children are the Third Legion Astartes, led by the Primarch Fulgrim, known as the Illuminator, or the Phoenician. They were one of the original Traitor forces which participated in the Isstvan III atrocity – a prelude to the better-known Dropsite Massacre on Isstvan V – and, later in the Heresy, Fulgrim was among the first to be blessed by the Dark Gods with elevation to a Daemon Prince. 



The III Legion was created, along with the other Legions, as the Unification Wars on Terra ground to a close. Their earliest recruits were said to be the sons of Terran nobility, which may have contributed to their tendency towards aesthetic refinement and “perfection”. 

From an early stage, the III had a “profound ability” to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their enemies and allies, which allowed them to develop tailored and precise strategies and tactics to earn victories where none may otherwise have been found.  

The Emperor’s Children in those early days also had a number of singular honours bestowed upon them by the Emperor – they were used as equerries and bodyguards for diplomatic missions, proudly bearing the Palatine Aquila following their distinguished conduct in the Proximan Betrayal. 

The nascent Legion was, however, mired in disaster early on in their existence, following a catastrophic loss of their gene-seed stock in a series of incidents. Their numbers began to dwindle and wither, along with the strength of the Legion. It was only after the discovery of their Primarch, Fulgrim, on the polluted mining world of Chemos, that the Legion managed to slow, and then reverse, their decline.

Under Fulgrim the Legion went from strength to strength, with the Phoenician and his brother Horus forging a strong bond. The Luna Wolves often fought side by side with the Emperor’s Children, as the Legion continued on the road to recovery. 

When Fulgrim took command of his Legion, he instilled a sense of dedication and drive within the III which drove them to ever-greater heights of skill and ability. The goal was simple – perfection and excellence in all aspects of warfare and study. While this may, at first, seem like a laudable goal and something to be admired, there was another side to this coin – a streak of pride, which some would say bordered on arrogance.

If a Legionary failed to achieve the required standards, they would be held in contempt by those better skilled; if a brother excelled, it was a lightning-rod for jealousy. These ugly emotions were the grim foundation of the seemingly-perfect edifice, and set the stage for the role they would play in the Heresy.

Credit: @thephoenician03

During the Heresy 

The Emperor’s Children were one of the first Traitor Legions. Fulgrim was brought under the sway of Chaos early on, during the Cleansing of Laeran, where he acquired the Blade of the Laer – a trophy sword of seemingly xenos origin. Fulgrim used this blade more and more as time went on, not realising it was a puissant Daemon weapon. 

At the start of the Heresy, partly twisted by the whispers of his new blade, Fulgrim swiftly turned to support Horus’ cause and allowed Chaos into his heart. This drove him to assist in the great betrayal at Isstvan III, where the Emperor’s Children, Death Guard, Sons of Horus and World Eaters purged their own ranks of perceived loyalists. The Emperor’s Children massacred their own without mercy – but, it must be said, were also key to the survival of many Loyalist elements of those Legions. Among the Emperor’s Children who remained loyal, Saul Tarvitz and Ancient Rylanor were but two warriors whose dedication allowed word to get to the Emperor of this atrocity. 

The Emperor’s Children then participated in the Drop Site Massacre on Isstvan V, where Fulgrim famously slew the Primarch of the Iron Hands, Ferrus Manus. The Legion, by this point, had descended into a bloody parody of what it had once been – consumed by the pursuit of excess and extremism. Fulgrim later achieved Daemonhood through a blasphemous ritual, and the Emperor’s Children wreaked havoc on the Galaxy as the war burned on. 

Credit: @thephoenician03

The Emperor’s Children partook in the Siege of Terra at the war’s climax and perhaps, paradoxically, aided the Loyalist cause by simply amusing themselves with the population of the planet rather than focusing on winning the Siege. After the Traitor’s defeat, the Legion fled to the Eye of Terror, eventually starting the brutal internecine wars that would see the traitor legions fighting among themselves for millennia.

Finally, Fulgrim and Guilliman later met in single combat during the Battle of Thessala, where Fulgrim laid his brother low – proving he was among the most dangerous of the Traitor Primarchs. 


Legion Special Rules

The latest versions of the Emperor’s Children special rules can be found in the Age of Darkness Legions red book. 

The Emperor’s Children have the following special rules unique to their Legion: 

  • Exemplars of War: This gives them the Crusader special rule, allowing them to roll two dice and pick the highest for Run moves, and adding +D3 to any roll for a Sweeping Advance. This also gives +1 Initiative to Characters in Challenges.
  • Flawless Execution: Emperor’s Children gain +1 Initiative on the turn which they charge (unless the charger is Disordered). 
  • Martial Pride: Emperor’s Children must always issue and accept a challenge where possible but, if they are defeated, they take a -1 penalty to Leadership for any end of combat Morale check. 

Overall these rules clearly favour a close-combat force with a lot of mobility. +1 Initiative on the charge is very potent in the Horus Heresy – it allows you to generally swing before your opponent and, when combined with the +1 Initiative for Characters in a Challenge, allows your Sergeant models to go even faster than some HQ models. With the right equipment, this can be devastating, and cripple your opponent before they can get the opportunity to swing back.

The ability to roll two dice the pick the highest for Runs also favours a manoeuvrable force, and while there is a penalty to losing in a challenge, if you pick your fights well this will never usually be an issue.

Legion Special Equipment 

The Emperor’s Children have access to the following special wargear: 

  • Sonic Shriekers – These impose a -1 WS to enemy models in base contact, unless they are immune to Fear. 
  • Phoenix Power Spear – These can be given to most characters. On the turn the model charges, it is +1S AP2, and on subsequent turns it is +0S AP3. 

These are quite good – although the Sonic Shriekers not working against models immune to Fear can be quite annoying. This can restrict their usage against any Salamanders Legion unit, anything with a Chaplain Consul, and a lot of Mechanicum units, which is unfortunate. Otherwise, however, swinging at a WS advantage is excellent against most things, and combined with the +1 Initiative can be very deadly. 

The Power Spear is a superb weapon in the right hands. It is a relatively cheap upgrade for Sergeant models, and when combined with a WS and Initiative advantage, can make mincemeat of opposing Artificer-armoured warriors. It also means the unit has a fighting chance against Terminators on the charge – those units are often quite small, which means forcing a few Invulnerable saves at a high initiative can be the deal-breaker. 

Legion Rites of War 

The III have access to two special Rites of War – the Maru Skara and the 3rd Company Elite.

The Maru Skara 

This is very interesting Rite, and “classic” Emperor’s Children. It has a passive benefit on the first turn of the game  in the form of +1” to movement, Running and Charge moves for all units deployed on the table at the start of the turn. This can, in theory, mean you get T1 charges even when this might otherwise be impossible, and when combined with Crusader means you will probably be moving 5-7” additionally in the Shooting Phase if you choose to Run.

The main benefit, however, is the “Hidden Blade”, where you must choose between 1-3 Elites and/or Fast Attack choices, which are held in reserve (with any Independent Characters attached to them) and are held in a separate “pool”. This means they don’t count towards Drop Pod Assault or anything else. 

You then write down, after deployment but before the game begins, a secret note which lists turn 2, 3 or 4. On that turn, the three units all arrive, and gain Outflank.

This is huge – you can bring on Contemptor Dreadnoughts, Jetbikes, Outriders, Land Speeders, Lightning-Strike Fighters… the list is very long, and contains some extremely powerful units. 

You will, however, have to take an additional HQ choice – a Legion Champion. These are quite good, so this isn’t too bad. You also cannot take Allies, Immobile, Heavy or Slow and Purposeful units – again, this is fine, as you probably weren’t going to be anyway. There is also an extra VP for your opponent if you don’t slay their warlord – remember that! 

I would view a shooty Fast Attack choice as probably the best bet for the “ Hidden Blade” here, as you can’t assault the turn you arrive from Outflank, but there is an argument for close-combat Contemptor Dreadnoughts, or a large squad of Tartaros Terminators. A friend of mine who plays a lot of Emperor’s Children swears by a swarm of basic Land Speeders with Multi-Meltas and Grav Guns – they come on and nuke an armoured target with impunity. 

3rd Company Elite 

This Rite represents post-Isstvan V Emperor’s Children, who are very much heretics and traitors. The Kakophoni (see below) become troops, and get Relentless, which is a huge bonus to their offensive firepower and makes them very mobile. Any power (or artificer) armoured infantry unit can also take Sonic Shriekers, but a whole squad must be kitted out if this is chosen. The limitations are that you cannot take Legion Allies, and any Allies you do take are one “worse” on the Allies Matrix. 

3rd Company Elite is quite a strong Rite in many ways – the drawbacks are slight, as Allies are not that common in Horus Heresy, and the bonuses to Kakophoni are very potent.

My experience playing against this is that you have to be very much all-or-nothing – either take 3 units of 10 Kakophoni or don’t bother, and you have to give them all Legion Apothecaries as they have Gets Hot. If you do that, however, you’ll be laying down a brutal mid-ranged fusillade of anti-infantry firepower, which can then be supplemented by whatever else you take. The Sonic Shriekers bonus is OK, but it can add up across an entire squad – depending on your opponent it could be good on Assault Marines. 

Credit: @thephoenician03

Legion Special Units

The Kakophoni of the Emperor’s Children 

These represent the vile and twisted path of the Emperor’s Children as they began to use experimental psycho-sonic weaponry which became popular in the 3rd Legion, particularly after Isstvan. The 3rd Company (as the Rite of War suggests) under Captain Marius Vairosean were particularly fond of these weapons, and quickly became enslaved by them. The Kakophoni are the progenitors of the 40k Noise Marine, and are deadly on the battlefield (TheChirurgeon’s Note: They have great models, too).

In practice, these are a mid-ranged ranged unit, unleashing The Cacophony – a Heavy 2, Gets Hot, Str 6 AP 5 36” sonic blaster. This is decent on its own, albeit with poor AP, but where it really shines is the Bio-psychic Shock rule. 

If The Cacophony causes wounds, then at the end of the Shooting phase, the units who have suffered these wounds (provided they are not Fearless) take a Leadership test, with a negative modifier of the number of wounds they suffered. If they fail this, they suffer D6 wounds at AP2 Instant Death, with no cover saves. This is absolutely devastating in Horus Heresy, as Eternal Warrior is extremely rare. 

Fearless units are, unfortunately, not uncommon, but if you pair this up with 3rd Company Elite then you can obliterate Infantry units, particularly if they have poor Leadership. A great unit! 

Phoenix Terminator Squad 

Credit: Forge World

The elite guard of the Phoenician himself, the Phoenix Guard represented Fulgrim’s personal command retinue, and were armed with beautiful golden weapons and armoured in artificer-wrought Tartaros plate. They were impressive on the field of battle, with unsurpassed martial skill. 

Unfortunately, on the tabletop they aren’t quite as good. On paper they are impressively armed – each has Tartaros Terminator Armour and a Phoenix Spear, with WS5 and +1 Initiative on the charge which is cumulative with other bonuses, and Stubborn on top. They also turn drawn combats within a 6” bubble of themselves into victories. This is all very good.

The problem is the cost. Phoenix Terminators are 265pts for 5 models with 1 Wound each – that is almost 100pts over a basic Terminator squad, and after the first turn of combat they have nothing to handle 2+ armour saves. 

I’m all for not letting this stop you taking them – the models are some of my favourite in the entire Heresy range, and they’re extremely fluffy units. You will just have to accept that, unless you massacre your opponent in the first round, you may get bogged down – and if you do slaughter the enemy, you’ll be sitting there with only a 5+ Invulnerable save if they turn heavy weapons on you. At 40pts a Terminator, that is not great. And they don’t even come with Sonic Shriekers for free!

Palatine Blade Squad 

[NB: These were given “Playtest Rules” in an FAQ. I know literally no one who runs them with the book rules any more, so look up the v1.1 FAQ and the rules will be in there. They’re much better!]

Credit: Forge World

The Palatine Blades are a veteran warrior fraternity of the finest swordsmen the Legion can offer – and in a Legion which strives for martial perfection, this means they are very potent warriors indeed. They formed their own society of duellists within the Legion, which Fulgrim was rather fond of. 

In practice, they are extremely customisable combat veterans who come with a Charnabal sabre as their stock weapon – a blade which gives them Rending and +1 Initiative in a Challenge (which they can all issue). Quite appropriate! They also have Counter-attack, which makes for up to 4 Attacks per Palatine, even when charged. 

They have a lot of options, including being able to be armed with Phoenix Spears, take Artificer Armour, and take Jump Packs. If you really tool them up they get very expensive – my advice is either take a Jump Pack or Artificer Armour, not both. 

I have seen these used to great effect in a Land Raider – they aren’t Bulky – or a Storm Eagle. They’re a good unit, but you have to remember that they have no Invulnerable Save and if you don’t give them upgrades their Rending can be inconsistent, so pick your targets – these guys can chew up Tactical Squads and similar, rather than trying to take on a Primarch and their retinue. 

Legion Special Characters

Rylanor the Unyielding 

An ancient Contemptor Dreadnought who fought beside the Emperor at Roma and Thule – and a true legend of the Legion. Rylanor remained loyal at Isstvan III, surviving the initial bombardment and saving many Legionary lives by sealing a bunker complex as the bombs fell. During the betrayal at Isstvan III he was a prime target for the Traitors, and ultimately survived the Heresy entombed on that dead world, alone but not forgotten…

In practice Rylanor is a Contemptor with a Kheres Assault Cannon and a Close Combat Weapon with Heavy Flamer – a respectable loadout. He’s got Crusader, and the Venerable rule, which makes him faster and more survivable than a standard Contemptor, and he allows re-rolling of failed Morale checks for loyalist Emperor’s Children units within 24” of him, as well as adding +1 to assault results.

Overall he is a very fluffy inclusion for a loyalist Emperor’s Children army, if a bit expensive at 255 pts – but you can look at the combat buffing as quite potent, as it is a good force multiplier. 

Lord Commander Eidolon 

The former Lord Commander of the Emperor’s Children, a paragon of virtue brought down to bitter ruin. Eidolon was a figure who strove for perfection and got burned by it – at one point Fulgrim even cut off his head, but he was rescued by the hideous skills of Chief Apothecary Fabius. He was bio-modified in a heretical manner, gaining augmentations to allow him to shriek with a sonic power strong enough to pulverise battleplate. 

Eidolon is a powerhouse on the battlefield, with Praetor stats, a master-crafted Thunder Hammer and the ability to take a Jump Pack, allowing him to support a variety of squads. If he charges he can ignore the Unwieldy rule with his Thunder Hammer – a massive bonus as he can slaughter an opposing HQ in a Challenge with impunity as his Initiative will be buffed by his Legion rules. He can also unleash a savage Rending Template “Scream” attack which, while not that strong, also has the chance to Pin an unlucky opponent. 

Captain Saul Tarvitz 

Saul Tarvitz is, like Rylanor, an Emperor’s Children loyalist. He is one of the most pivotal characters in the Heresy, as he realised what was about to unfold on Isstvan III before the virus-bombs were launched, and audaciously stole a Thunderhawk and managed to warn the Loyalists of the incoming betrayal. In doing so, he foiled Horus’ plans for a quick slaughter and allowed the beleaguered Loyalists to mount a staunch defence, buying valuable time to get word to the wider Imperium. 

On the tabletop he is a reasonably costed Praetor-like character, with a Sniper Rifle and Charnabal Broadsword (+1 Strength on a normal Charnabal Sabre). He is nothing to write home about, but is reasonably costed and a very fluffy leader for any Loyalist Emperor’s Children force – particularly alongside Ancient Rylanor. 

Fulgrim the Illuminator 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

What more is there to say? Fulgrim started the Heresy as a perfect, if mercurial and arrogant, pinnacle of Imperial warrior culture. He was beautiful, skilled and fought with precision and honour. By the end of the Heresy he was a multi-limbed freakshow, re-sculpted by the Ruinous Powers into a hateful, egoistical atrocity. However, he still holds the title for the most Primarchs slain by any individual – not something to be trifled with. The rules we currently have for him represent his pre-Daemonhood form.

In battle in the Horus Heresy he brings more than just his melee skills to the tabletop: Emperor’s Children gain +2 to Combat Resolution (so even a slight loss becomes a draw or a win – this stacks with other rules which give them similar bonuses) and Reserves can be rerolled (even if successful, if you want to delay for that perfect strike). He has an impressive stat line, with the usual Primarch “6”s but also a very high WS and Initiative of 8. In Combat he has a 3+ Invulnerable save and in a Challenge he gets bonus attacks equal to the amount which his Initiative value is greater than his opponent – which can be absolutely savage if fighting a Mechanicum opponent with low Initiative. His weaponry and armour is as you would expect – AP2 and Rending for his Blade of the Laer (or a Master-Crafted Paragon Blade with 5+ Murderous Strike, depending on what option you choose).

He can also pick his Warlord Trait, which can allow you to plan to perfection. 


Sample Army List 

To encourage new players into the Heresy, I set out below a sample 1,500 pt army list for Emperor’s Children, which is designed to make use of plastic sets where possible, and then a few Forge World resin upgrade kits (or very iconic , and less expensive, models, like the Contemptor Dreadnought). This is not a “win-at-all-costs” list, but rather what I would put together to start with if I wanted to get into this Legion at a reasonable financial cost. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments!

A note on Jump Packs – currently you can only get MK2 or MK4 Jump Packs from Forge World as part of a larger kit. Spellcrow, a 3rd party manufacturer, do a good “faux” kit for each though – /

Rite of War – The Maru Skara 

  • HQ – Praetor with Artificer Armour, Digital Lasers, Iron Halo, Jump Pack, Master-Crafted Paragon Blade 
  • HQLegion Champion with Paragon Blade, Refractor Field
  • ElitesContemptor Dreadnought with 2x Dreadnought Close Combat Weapons with Graviton Guns
  • ElitesPalatine Blade Squad with 7 Palatine Blades, 2 Phoenix Spears and a Melta Bomb [NB: Using Playtest Rules]
  • TroopsAssault Squad with 15 men, Artificer Armour + Phoenix Spear
  • TroopsTactical Squad, Artificer Armour + Phoenix Spear, Rhino 
  • Fast AttackLand Speeder x3 with Graviton Guns and Multi-Meltas 
  • Fast AttackAnvillus Pattern Dreadclaw Drop Pod

This list comes to 1,500 pts and is designed around the Maru Skara. 

You start by dropping in the Anvillus Drop Pod into the midst of your opponent, while pushing up with your Praetor and his Assault Marine escort (making use of the bonus to your initial Run moves). On the second turn, the Dreadnought and Land Speeders outflank in as the “Hidden Blade”, using their weapons to punish the enemy armour and break open transports for the Palatine Blades and Praetor to then swoop in. Your Tactical Marines support as appropriate. 

This force will use mostly plastic kits with upgrades, save for the Dreadnought, Palatine Blades and Dreadclaw – all of which are iconic Heresy models. 



The Third Legion take some finesse to use correctly – as is appropriate, as only the most perfect warriors will be able to wield them to their full effectiveness. You have to always be thinking one step ahead of your opponent, and make them play to your battle strategy, not theirs. This might make them a difficult Legion for newcomers to the Heresy, but I can promise that, when you execute that perfect Palatine Blade charge which devastates your opponent’s flank, it will all be worth it.

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Hail the Warmaster! Hail the Phoenician! Hail the Children of the Emperor!